tv Democracy Now LINKTV May 11, 2012 3:00pm-4:00pm PDT
(narrator) on december 10th 1999, i made a short visit to taiwan on my way back to the u.s. it was ama's, my grandmother's 95th birthday. this would count as my eighth visit to taiwan. 1973, my first visit to taiwan. agu, my uncle, took us to their farm in the south to see my grandfather's grave. years later my mother tells me i was very sad to leave taiwan, unlike my brother. 1979, here we are in front of president nixon's head in kenting. january 1986, i visited with mom and my college roommate.
i wrote: "my feelings are deeper than just visiting. "i love them all and really care "about our future relations together. i'm going to have to learn chinese well." 1987, that summer, i lived with ama, agu and his wife, my agim, and cousins. i studied mandarin and attended the overseas chinese summer camp. ama tells me my mandarin is at an eight-year old level. 1991, on vacation from my civil rights work visiting with mom. met women engaged in underground feminist activities. cousins discussed the rising crime in taipei. i wrote, "near the end of this trip, mom told me that my cousins kept saying this may be the last time they'll see me for a long time, especially if i go to graduate school."
1993, went to visit my boyfriend who had moved back to taiwan with his family. 1995, visited with mom. chen shui-bian of the democratic progressive party had just become mayor of taipei in the first ever popular election for governors and mayors in taiwan. the energy in the air reminded me of the time i was in moscow shortly after perestroika was introduced. ama had just won first prize for an autobiography contest. all these photos i've collected and books of writings, notes and clippings. where does this impulse come from? so during this 1999 visit, i wrote: "at 95, ama smiles, talks, eats, walks slowly but i feel her spirit fading."
two days later, i wrote: "certainly there is a sense of loss-- always year after year. corporate cultural imperialism is stronger than ever before; turning the face of the city into one huge mall." upon returning to san francisco, i knew i needed to make one more attempt to record ama. but the challenge still, was how? you see, upon hearing about her autobiography, in 1995, i set out with a friend's hi-8 camera to gather footage on ama without any solid idea of what to do with the footage. all i knew was she had turned 91, and i wasn't sure how much longer she had. after all, she was known as "democratic grandma." what was so special about my grandmother? what wisdom cod she offer?
pray. your grandma just prays. she prays?! (narrator) with my relatives pressuring my mother to make sure i get married, being that i was nearing 30, my mother told them, it's better that i don't visit them again. seven years later and it's 2002. a taiwanese artist and friend had asked me to apply to the taipei artist village. excitedly i did, with a proposal to make a documentary about "democratic grandma." it was good timing, with the controversial u.s. presidential election, the tragedies of 9/11,
u.s. bombing of afghanistan, my surviving a burst appendix, and the impending war in iraq. for me, there was an overwhelming sense of floating between endings and beginnings. it's august now and mom calls to tell me that ama fell down and fractured her hip. the doctor checked her bone density and found that she had the density of a 50-year old. on october 2nd, the taipei artist village formally invite me, starting in december for six weeks. my mother had translated the autobiography from chinese to english for me and i was ready to go, or so i thought. october 20th, grandma has her 3rd stroke. her right side is paralyzed, and she cannot speak or swallow, but her left hand can move.
mom flies back to taiwan immediately. [mom on telephone] (narrator) i dream that ama was in the hospital and said that she was not ready to go. and she made it out okay. but i know i cried that night in my dream. october 26th, i attend the anti-war march in san francisco with 100,000 other protesters. dad said he didn't hear about it in massachusetts.
(narrator) watching grandma's sister reminds me so much of ama-- her forehead, her expressions, her lips even. at times i am a foreigner, much like a painter i met from england. (female) well, it's one of the things i find most compelling about coming to an asian city, where not being able to understand the language or read it, casts me into the role of being a perpetual observer, and so i'm always looking, and i love looking. so it really intensifies that whole activity. but, after awhile of course it becomes quite alienating. at the end of the stay, i'm longing to understand without being aware of understanding.
(narrator) the first time i heard about the 2-2-8 incident was through a taiwanese friend in 1996. on february 28, 1947, the new chinese nationalist government, the kuomintang, began its violent suppression of island-wide protests, which resulted in 40 years of martial law and the death of as many as 30,000 civilians.
she had no say in it. she was very upset." i can't remember if she told me this in taiwanese, most of which i can understand, or my cousin yi-ga helped me translate it. i constantly question my own perception and memory. is this a matter of language or my confidence? this time with mom as translator, she confirmed that ama was interested in another man when she married grandpa. ama wrote that she stopped thinking about him after she had her first child.
(narrator) i remember my feeling of shock in 1987 when my cousin explained to me how you cannot speak out against the government because you will be questioned, prosecuted or disappear. i asked him to repeat three times thinking perhaps i could not understand his mandarin so well. my parents never talked about taiwanese politics in front of me and my brother. as far as we knew taiwan was where our parents were born, and where our relatives lived. i had always considered myself to be chinese.
(narrator) mom told me that ama stopped gambling while my mom was in high school so that she could study hard and concentrate on the entrance exam for college. in my 1987 interview with ama, she told me that her happiest moment was seeing her children's names on the acceptance list of those who could enter college. all the girls went to college.
(narrator) one of my translators diplomatically explains that one section from the autobiography was omitted in the english version translated by my mom. (narrator) this clipping fell out of my journal. i don't remember why i kept it. but i remember that it was raining that day and as i was coming home from the bank with my uncle, there were so many police in riot gear.
(narrator) my translator, who is 26, tells me this story. (female) when i was 23, i met a friend who asked me, "do you know the shape of the yellow river in china?" i said, "yes" and drew it for him. so, "do you know the shape of dan shui river?" and i said, "i don't know." he said, "dan shui river is the mother river in taipei. "you're born in taipei so you don't even know the shape of it." and i felt kind of ashamed.
(narrator) on may 13, 1987 i wrote: it was humid and breezy as i stepped out of the taipei international airport. ama grabbed my wrist and started pulling my skin. i felt her soft fingers digging into me. she looked up at me and said, "anita, you're so healthy!" i visit ama with xiao ayi and her husband at the nursing home. i help with massaging ama's hands, legs, and her feet,
the feet that have carried her for 100 years. (narrator) i met a young woman shi-chi. at 24 years old, she has taken a leap of faith to pursue her dream of running a coffee shop. she said, if she doesn't do it now, it will be more difficult when she gets older. she voted in the 2000 presidential election, but plans not to vote for the upcoming election. she is not excited about any of the candidates.
my parents were her age when they left for the united states, to try a dream and forget about the political turmoil, or at least keep the children sheltered from it. but they never really forgot. at their first chance, they bought a satellite dish to watch taiwan news, and soap operas of course. this has become a daily ritual.